The goals of this book are first, to identify the conditions under which the American public will, or will not, support their president when he or she leads the nation to war; second, to determine precisely when those conditions will tend to prevail (and for how long); and third, to assess their implications for the future of American foreign policy.

To accomplish these goals, we focus on the primary source of public information about politics and foreign policy: the mass media. The mass media are the key intermediaries between citizens and their leaders, particularly with respect to policies and events being implemented far from American shores. Citizens learn virtually everything they know about foreign policy from the mass media, whether through personal exposure or indirectly, via conversations with friends or family members who gained their information from the media. This makes understanding how the media select their stories concerning foreign policy (the supply of information) central to any effort to account for public attitudes toward those policies (the demand for policy).

This focus, in turn, leads us to four central questions that guide this book. First, to what extent does the media’s representation of Washington debates account for variations in public support for presidential foreign policy initiatives, and do these effects vary over the course of an initiative? Second, does media coverage of foreign policy debates in Washington accurately reflect the intensity, substance, or variance of those debates?  Third, do so-called “new media” alter these relationships, and if so, how? Finally, what are the implications of our answers to the first three questions for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy? To address these questions, we develop a “strategic bias” theory of elite-press-public interaction. Our theory explains the foreign policy communication process as the outcome of a three-way strategic interaction between the press, the public, and political elites, each of which has distinct preferences, interests, and capabilities.

Senator Arthur Vandenberg famously opined that when it comes to foreign policy, “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Our data reveal little evidence supporting this view.

By Matthew Baum and Tim Groeling
Under Contract to Princeton University Press

Political Behavior readers....

Video treatments from our “Shot by the Messenger” experiments may be viewed online here in quicktime format. You may also view the verbatim transcripts of the stories here.